The Blog's Mission

Wikipedia defines a book review as: “a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review”. My mission is to provide the reader with my thoughts on the author’s work whether it’s good, bad, or ugly. I read all genres of books, so some of the reviews may be on hard to find books, or currently out of print. All of my reviews will also be available on Amazon.com. I will write a comment section at the end of each review to provide the reader with some little known facts about the author, or the subject of the book. Every now and then, I’ve had an author email me concerning the reading and reviewing of their work. If an author wants to contact me, you can email me at rohlarik@gmail.com. I would be glad to read, review and comment on any nascent, or experienced writer’s books. If warranted, I like to add a little comedy to accent my reviews, so enjoy!
Thanks, Rick O.

Friday, November 17, 2017

then SHE was BORN


The author sent me a copy of his novel to read and review:

When I finished the last page of Cristiano Gentili’s novel, I said to myself...this was a pretty damn good book. Not only was the author’s storytelling terrific, but it served as a big enterprise for the author. Before the story starts, the author clarifies his plea for what he explains is a just cause, “This is a work of fiction based on true events. A girl named Adimu, the protagonist of this novel, does not exist. Both Adimu and the succession of events narrated in the story are fruit of the author’s imagination. However, every individual among the thousands of individuals with albinism living in sub-Saharan Africa - and this is a fact - has experienced at least some of the episodes the character Adimu faces. In this sense, and only in this sense, are the events in this novel absolutely and incredibly true.” The author has the support of eleven Nobel Peace-Prize Laureates plus the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis supporting his cause. Based on this pre-information, I thought I was going to read another bleeding-heart novel that was just trying to get its main political theme through. Wow, I was so wrong. This is a standalone novel that doesn’t need to embrace any mission. Although the author’s prose is somewhat rudimentary at times, the story is not. The main characters were kept to a respectful level with easy to remember names. There is no guess work in this novel since, “In 2011, he went on a personal fact-finding trip to Tanzania, to assess the living conditions of Africans with albinism.” This novel is the English translation of his book, originally written in Italian.

Most of the novel took place on an island of Tanzania named Ukerewe. A native islander, Juma, delivers an albino baby, which is the worst possible thing that could have happened to her. Juma felt “only scorn and disgust...she had diligently followed every directive given to her by the woman of the clan...yet she had borne this monstrosity.” Her husband, Sefu, viewed the baby and thought to himself, “She was a curse, a judgement...how could I have begot such a thing...it has to die.” The women in the birth hut said, “It’ll have red eyes like the devil, it’s a zeru zeru (Swahili for a person with albinism) with witchy, magical powers.” Sefu leaves Juma, his second wife, and goes back to his first wife and children. Sefu, speaking with village chief Kondo, demands that the baby has to die. Sefu’s mother, Nkamba, and the grandmother to the albino baby objects. Nkamba says, “Follow the example of our neighbors, the Masai, she continued, holding Sefu’s gaze. Tomorrow, at dawn, place the baby on the ground in front of the gate where the community herd is kept. Let the beasts decide her fate. If the cattle trample her to death as they leave their pen, that is her destiny; if she survives, I will raise her.” The village chief, Kondo, and the village shaman, Zuberi, granted her request. Sefu is not happy. A young fisherman said, “The birth of a white shadow is a bad sign. Zeru zerus must be left in the forest from the moment of birth as an offering to the Spirits. That is how it always been. She has to die alone, far from the community.”

During the night before the test, Nkamba prayed. Then, “In the dark of the night the old woman, crept to the pen where the cattle were kept, each one known to her by name. She stayed there only long enough to collect some urine from a cow to dampen a rag. This way you will recognize her as one of your own and do her no harm.” In the morning, “Nkamba set the bundle on the ground, right in front of the pen’s gate. She asked her son if she could be the one to open the gate. After a nod, Sefu waited, a motionless ebony statue against a gray sky that threatened rain. Most of the villagers hoped to see the hooves of the milk cows trample the newborn and, thus, ward off the curse that risked destroying their island world...She opened the gate. The beasts bellowed and moaned and crowded the pen’s entryway. The first cow trod forward with uncertain steps. The animal lowered its muzzle toward the infant, obstructing the others behind it. It sniffed at the bundle and stepped over it. The second and then the third cow distinguished the presence of a living thing on the ground and sidestepped it too.” The rest of the herd burst out of the compound causing a cloud of dust around the baby. Did the baby survive? “Then, out of the hush, an acute and distressing cry from the tiny creature issued forth. A small white arm broke free and waved in the air...she was alive.” At least for now. Sefu forbade Nkamba from naming the baby. A local native, Mosi, a graduate of a catholic seminary, who was now known as Father Andrew vowed to help get the baby a name. With an appeal to the village chief, Kondo and the village shaman, Zuberi, Nkamba was allowed to name the baby. Father Andrew baptized the baby the next Sunday. Father Andrew told Nkamba that she must now name the baby. Nkamba said, “She will be called Adimu” (meaning rare in Swahili).
  
All of this happened during the first twenty six pages of the novel, which immediately tweaked my interest. This is how a good writer (like Cristiano Gentili) starts a novel...take the ball and run with it (I still love idioms). Don’t bore me with a 150 pages of useless fluff before the plot slowly starts to develop like the many books (that) I’ve read and reviewed in the past have (is it correct to end a sentence with have?). Anyway, the only flaw that I could find in Then she was born was in the coinciding story of Charles and Sarah Fielding, the rich Caucasian gold mine owners, who lived in mansion known as “The White House” on the island of Ukerewe in Tanzania. Their story was so powerful that it almost overwhelmed the story of Adimu, who represented the reason the novel was written for in the first place. But the author brilliantly melded the two stories together resulting in a whirlwind ending. This novel was quite a trip, and I wish the author all the luck in the world in his quest to end Africa’s prejudice and hateful attitude towards African albinos. Great job Cristiano Gentili!  
  
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: I almost didn’t take this novel on because I didn’t see the need to review it since the author already had 41 reviews with a 4.5 average rating. But he lured me in by telling me that I’m a professional reviewer, that I review books in a fair way, that I know my business and how satisfactory it would be for him if his novel received a five star rating from me. Well, Cristiano Gentili, you got your five star review...and you earned it!   

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER


Although Mark Twain published various writings previously, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was his first solo novel (1876). It was followed by the 1884 publishing of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (see my review of 12/17/2012). Don’t ask me why Twain left out “The” in Huck Finn’s novel title. Twain wrote two sequels for the Tom Sawyer character: Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894) and Tom Sawyer, Detective (1896). The Sawyer novel gave birth to one of Mark Twain’s legendary villains, Injun Joe, and one of his most lovable characters, gray haired Aunt Polly (was she the forerunner for Aunt Bee in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry TV Show?). Anyway, the novel was filled with memorable characters, including Huck Finn, Joe Harper and Becky Thatcher. The vernacular language of the 1870s was used in the Sawyer novel but in a less abusive fashion compared to the Huck Finn novel. A example of the local language is revealed on page 15 when Tom is trying to trick his friend into taking over the job of whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence. Tom tells Jim, who was on his way to get a pail of water from the town’s pump for his missy, “Say, Jim, I’ll fetch the water if you’ll whitewash some.” Jim shook his head and said, “Can’t Mars Tom, ole missis, she tole me I got to go an’ git dis water an’ not to stop foolin’ roun’ wid anybody. She say she spec’ Mars Tom gwine to ax me to whitewash, an’ so she tole me go ‘long an’ tend to my own business-she ‘lowed she’d tend to de whitewashin’.” (Of course, Tom eventually tricked Jim into whitewashing the fence). In the preface, the author says, “Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.”

The novel starts out rather tranquil in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri on the Mississippi River. Tom Sawyer lives with his half brother, Sid, and his cousin Mary at his Aunt Polly’s house ever since Tom’s mom passed away. Tom is a conniving young man that just wants to do his own thing with no strings attached. He loves swimming, fishing, goofing off and playing marbles...he hates work, going to school and going to Sunday School. When Aunt Polly takes Tom to church, we have the opportunity to meet the town folks on page 35. “The crowd filed up the aisles: the aged and needy postmaster, who had seen better days; the mayor and his wife; the widow Douglas, fair, smart, and forty, a generous, goodhearted soul and well-to-do, her hill mansion the only palace in the town; the bent and venerable Major and Mrs. Ward; lawyer Riverson; next the belle of the village, followed by a troop of lawn clad* (*dressed in fine summer clothing); then all the young clerks in town in a body and last of all came the Model Boy, Willie Mufferson, taking a heedful care of his mother as if she was cut glass. The boys all hated him, he was so good.” Tom caused a stir in church when he let out a big pinch-bug from his percussion-cap box (a storage box he kept in his pant’s pocket) and a vagrant poodle dog began chasing it around the aisles. I told you that this novel starts out docile, but Twain’s writing is terrific. Want more excitement? Tom falls in love with the new girl in town, Becky Thatcher. He tries to show off in front of her at school, but that only gets him in constant trouble with the school’s master. When is this story going to explode with excitement? How about on page 43 when Tom runs into his buddy, Huck Finn? Don’t worry about the slow start; this novel will definitely get unexpectedly tense soon enough.

After Tom had his loose tooth pulled by Aunt Polly (the gap in his upper row of teeth enabled him to expectorate in a new and admiral way), he headed for school. “Shortly Tom came upon the juvenile pariah of the village, Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunkard. Huckleberry was cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town, because he was idle and lawless and vulgar and bad-and because all their children admired him so, and delighted in his forbidden society, and wished they dared to be like him.” I loved the Huck Finn character. Let me give you a little bit of Mark Twain’s marvelous descriptive writing as he chronicles Huck’s appearance, “Huckleberry was always dressed in the castoff clothes of full-grown men, and they were in perennial bloom and fluttering with rags. His hat was a vast ruin with a wide crescent  lopped out of its brim; his coat,when he wore one, hung nearly to his heels and had the rearward buttons far down the back; but one suspender supported his trousers; the seat of the trousers bagged low and contained nothing; the fringed legs dragged in the dirt when not rolled up.” Can you visualize how he looked or what? Anyway, they talk about how to get rid of warts, Tom’s missing tooth, ticks, and dead cats (Huck has one with him that he traded for with another boy). Huck tells Tom that dead cats are good for curing warts with. Tom tells Huck that he knows something better to cure warts. Tom says, “Why, spunk-water.” Huck says, “Spunk-water! I wouldn’t give a dern for spunk-water.” Tom says it works because Bob Tanner did it. Huck says, “Who told you so?” Tom says, “Why, he told Jeff Thatcher, and Jeff told Johnny Baker, and Johnny told Jim Hollis, and Jim told a nigger, and the nigger told me, There now!” Pardon the language, but that’s how they talked in 1870. History is history.

Huck convinces Tom to meet him at the cemetery at midnight that night to prove his point. “Why, you take your cat and go and get in the graveyard’ long about midnight when somebody that was wicked has been buried; and when it’s midnight a devil will come, or maybe two or three, but you can’t see ‘em, you can only hear something like the wind, or maybe hear ‘em talk; and when they’re taking that feller away, you heave your cat after ‘em and say, ‘Devil follow corpse, cat follow devil, warts follow cat, I’m done with ye!’ That’ll fetch any wart.” So let me end my review at the spot where the boys go to the graveyard to test Huck’s theory and unexpectedly encounter three human devils. Can one of them possibly be...Injun Joe? This incident would cause Tom to say later on in the novel, “Well, I was afeard.” (don’t you love this 1870’s language?) This is where the novel took off like a runaway train, proving, once and for all, that Mark Twain was a great storyteller. In the conclusion section on page 204, Mark Twain writes, “So endeth this chronicle. It being strictly a history of a boy, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a man. When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop-that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can. Most of the characters that perform in this book still live, and are prosperous and happy. Some day it may seem worthwhile to take up the story of the younger ones again and see what sort of men and women they turned out to be; therefore it will be wisest not to reveal any of that part of their lives at present.”

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Just so you know, I left out the guts of the novel so you can discover the greatness of Twain on your own. By the way, for what it’s worth, this novel was written in third person narration (it’s got something to do with the author telling the story...I think).

I loved one of the sidebar parts of the novel where Twain talks about a boy’s desire: “There comes a time in every rightly constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. This desire suddenly came upon Tom one day. He sallied out to find Joe Harper, but failed of success. Next he sought Ben Rogers; he had gone fishing. Presently he stumbled upon Huck Finn the Red-Handed. Huck would answer. Tom took him to a private place and opened the matter to him confidentially. Huck was willing. Huck was always willing to take a hand in any enterprise that offered entertainment and required no capital, for he had a troublesome super-abundance of that sort of time which is not money.”

If you want to read excellent book about a boy and his treasure hunting, read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (see my review of 8/23/2016). It’s one of my favorite classics…Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest-yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Shiver me timbers!
   

Monday, November 6, 2017

DIARY OF A SNOOPY CAT


The author sent a copy of her novel to my Children's Book Specialist, Pat Koelmel, to read and review:

Not only am I a lover of the hugely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, I am a lover of cats. So, I was thrilled at the prospect of reading R. F. Kristi’s Diary of a Snoopy Cat, volume 5 in the Inca (the cat) series. On top of all that, it’s a detective story, and who doesn’t like a good detective story? I couldn’t wait to get my paws on it.

The storyline itself is straightforward. It takes place in London and revolves around Inca, an aspiring feline detective about to embark on her second case with the help of her friends, an assortment of cats and dogs … and one hamster by the name of Charlotte. By the way, the author did a fine job developing unique personalities for each of the four-legged characters. Boys and girls will snicker at the entertaining kitty/doggie banter. There’s also some good bathroom humor, always a plus for kids.

With that said, I would have enjoyed the story far more had Inca’s case du jour started sooner. Given the book is 180 pages long, the plot should have unfolded well before page 62. But once things got going (on or about page 80), the next 50 or so pages were action-packed and exciting.

Also, while I like the author’s decision to break up the book using moments in time (e.g.: 11 days before Christmas, Monday morning) like a diary, the text doesn’t read like a diary at all. And there are way too many characters to keep track of between all the cats (4), dogs (3), and humans (12). And let’s not forget Charlotte the hamster.

As for the illustrations, the cover image in particular is nothing short of striking.

There’s one more thing worth mentioning: Age range is my first indicator as to whether a children’s book is a chapter book (for ages 7-10) or middle-grade novel (for ages 8-12). And since Ms. Kristi’s bio recommends her book for ages up to 12, I initially thought I was about to read a middle-grade novel. However, I soon discovered I was wrong. While it didn’t matter so much where I was concerned, buyers of books for young readers need to know the correct age range in order to make good choices.

In the end, I believe Diary of a Snoopy Cat delivers a fun read for the chapter-book set. I give it four meows.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: So what’s the difference between a chapter book and a middle-grade novel? Children’s author Marty Mokler Banks offers the following answer on her blog, chapterbookchat.wordpress.com:

Emma D. Dryden, whose career in the publishing industry has included time as vice president, publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, explains that from a publisher’s standpoint, chapter books are those books geared towards readers between the ages of 7-10, and they will be formatted to lots of black-and-white illustrations, the chapters will be short, the type will be large, and there will be a nice amount of white space on the pages; the protagonists in chapter books are customarily about eight- or nine-years-old. Thus, chapter books invite the young reader in. They make a point not to intimidate"

“Conversely, Dryden says middle grade books are geared towards readers between the ages of 8-12, and they may or may not have illustrations, the chapters will be longer, the type will be of a more standard size, there will be less white space on the pages, and the protagonists in middle grade novels are customarily eleven- or twelve-years-old, which makes middle grade books slightly more mature, from format to content.”

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Inca Book Series

Award winning author, R.F. Kristi, emailed me to help promote her children's picture book series, which she says are multi-faceted. The author's aim is to promote culture through reading, teach children to respect and love animals and promote literacy and the love of reading. I'm glad to help her mission.
Rick O:

Introducing a book series which promotes learning a different culture through a fun read

What is the most effective way of promoting an interest in different cultures?’ was foremost in the mind of children’s author R.F. Kristi - when she started writing the Inca Book Series (www.incabookseries.com).
As a former professional of UNICEF with a Ph.D. in social development, she was very much aware that an important aspect of learning is the ability to understand and appreciate other cultures.
There are many reasons why children should be encouraged to learn about different cultures:
Firstly, other cultures are interesting. It is stimulating to learn about those who are different from you. Knowledge of other cultures kindles the mind. Learning about other cultures is an interesting way to challenge your thought processes and expand the way you process information.
Learning about other cultures fosters understanding. Many of the problems we have in this world are due to misunderstandings. When you learn about another culture, and see why others do the things they do, it’s easier to understand them.
When you learn about other cultures, you learn that there is more than one approach to life. Perhaps the cultural heritage of someone else can add another dimension to your life.
Being able to tolerate others, and not berate them because of their differences is not only a big part of living in a global community, but it is also the mark of a well-rounded person.
Travel enables the meeting and learning about other cultures and customs leading to a richer experience. Unfortunately, it is not every child who will have the opportunity to travel at a very young age. 
Thus, the question arises: how can we introduce children to a different culture?
Reading is an opportunity to learn about other cultures.
A fun way to be introduced to a different culture is promoted by R.F. Kristi through the Inca Book Series.
If you would like to learn more about the Inca Book Series there is an immediate opportunity on the website.
For the next two weeks, those who subscribe will be eligible for a free book and an Amazon gift certificate

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

ORIGIN


Harvard Professor Robert Langdon is back and better than ever. Is the storyline different? No, but for some reason this episode seemed more exciting than his last two efforts. Origin is comparable to the Dan Brown bestsellers, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Inferno (see my review of 8/29/2013) and The Lost Symbol were okay but lacked something (I’m not sure what). The plot is always the same. Langdon is either invited or summoned to an event by some haut monde type person who is summarily murdered. Langdon then jets around the world during a twenty-four hour period with a beautiful girl ultimately solving the murder by interpreting religious clues and symbols. You must remember his beguiling ladies; Sophie in The Da Vinci Code, Vittoria in Angels and Demons and Sienna in Inferno. Well get ready to meet the fiance of Prince Julian of Spain, Ambra Vidal. I’m not criticizing Dan Brown’s modus operandi. Didn’t Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot always assemble all the suspects at the novel’s end to expose the murderer? Didn’t William Powell in The Thin Man movies do the same thing? Didn’t Charlie Chan always use his Chinese wisdom (insignificant molehill sometimes more important than conspicuous mountain) to solve crimes? Didn’t one of his bungling sons always get in his way? Anyway, you get the message. So what’s this 461 page novel about?

World renowned scientist and atheist Edmond Kirsch arrives in Catalonia, Spain for a meeting with three world religious leaders in a massive stone monastery. Present are Bishop Valdespino (Catholic leader of Spain), Rabbi Yehuda Koves (prominent Jewish philosopher) and Syed al-Fadl (Islamic scholar). In the famed library of Montserrat Monastery, Edmond tells the religious leaders that they are going to preview a video that the whole world will see in a month. He needs a vow of secrecy...they agree. “I am here today,” Kirsch began, “because I have made a scientific discovery I believe you will find startling. It is something I have pursued for many years, hoping to provide answers to two of the most fundamental questions of our human experience (where do we come from?/ where are we going?). Now that I have succeeded, I have come to you specifically because I believe this information will affect the world’s faithful in a profound way, quite possibly causing a shift that can only be described as, shall we say-disruptive. At the moment, I am the only person on earth who has the information I am about to reveal to you...Kirsch glanced around the ancient repository of sacred texts. It will not shake your foundations. It will shatter them.” The three religious leaders are stunned by the video. Kirsch didn’t tell them, but he planned to show this video to the world in three days, not in a month. By the way, all of the above happened just in the prologue. Does it sound exciting?

Since Kirsch was a student of Langdon’s at Harvard, the professor was invited to the event held at a museum of modern art in northern Spain. Kirsch sent invitations to many famous people without telling them what the event was about. People flocked in from around the world. The invitation said, “Saturday night. Be there. Trust me.” The security getting in was very inflexible, yet a retired Spanish Admiral, Luis Avila, was able to get his name added to the guest list at the last moment. How? Apparently somebody called from the palace and asked Ambra Vidal (the Prince’s fiance), who was also the Museum’s director, to do a last minute favor. She was under a lot of pressure (at this late hour) to get the show starting on time...so she okayed the additional name to the list. Did the palace really call? Who is this admiral and whose orders does he follow? Are the three religious leaders trying to silence Kirsch? Each guest is given a individual headset to tour the museum. Professor Langdon’s headset is controlled by someone named Winston (is he human?). After a brief tour, Winston leads Langdon off the beaten path to a secret room where he meets Edmond Kirsch. Meanwhile, the Rabbi and the Muslim have disappeared. In the secret room, Kirsch tells Langdon, “I need your advice...I fear my life may depend on it.” Langdon says, “Edmond? What’s going on? Are you okay?...Edmond, relax. Focus on your presentation. You’re not in any danger from religious clerics.” Kirsch didn’t look convinced. “You may feel differently, Robert, when you hear what I’m about to say.”

What happens on stage during Kirsch’s presentation sets the tone for the rest of this super exciting novel. As usual, every chapter ended in a cliffhanger, leading the reader into the next chapter. I thought the unique subject matter added to the drama of this novel. I kept saying to myself, what’s the answer to Kirsch’s questions to Robert Langdon on page 53. “These two mysteries lie at the heart of the human experience. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Human creation and human destiny. They are the universal mysteries. Robert, the discovery I’ve made...it very clearly answers both of these questions.” Wow, this was one of the best novels I’ve read this year! And I read a lot of books. Did I say read or read...I love irregular verbs almost as much as I like using that that back to back.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: Generally, when you read a novel with Professor Robert Langdon as the main character, you learn something historically, or you are reminded of something you forgot. Reading this novel...I was reminded of something I forgot. I’m not a proponent of the idiots in this country who want to destroy any statue that leaves a bad taste in their mouths. Even statues of Christopher Colombus are under siege in NYC. You can’t erase history.

The great Spanish author and philosopher, Jorge (or George if you like) Santayana (12/16/1863 to 9/26/1952) once said something that is so true...especially in today’s world. He said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Enough said?   

Friday, October 6, 2017

Summa Metaphysica Book 2


The author sent me a copy of his book to read and review:

I’m not Jewish. And even if I was, I probably would not understand what I just read. If you have a large brain like the scholarly author David Birnbaum must have...you have a 25% chance of understanding his second book in the Summa Metaphysica series. For an average Joe like me, it was inevitable that I would not comprehend this book. I did my best to try to unravel what he was trying to tell the reader. Okay, so I broke down some of his words in order for me to fathom his complex thoughts. I figure that summa means summarizing a subject. All right, then cosmos must mean the universe as an orderly system. The hardest thing to grasp was potentialism. I assumed that that (I love using that back to back) word meant: a new way of understanding and interpreting the world we live in. The author states that the temperature of the universe is a constant 2.73 degrees above absolute zero. And what does that have to do with the cosmic womb of potential (his words, not mine)? On page 82, the author ask some questions that I thought I would learn the answers to...not. “Where did it all come from?”, “What are the origins of the cosmos?”, “What triggered the Big Bang?”, “If there is a classic God, why is there gross evil?”, and the big question is: “What is the purpose of man?” If he answered these questions in this book, they went way over my head. Look, maybe it’s me, but if so, why did Mr. Birnbaum have D. N. Khalil, a teacher of Jewish Philosophy at Long Island University, translate his complex mumbo jumbo (as it seemed to me) throughout the book? Mr. Khalil says, “Birnbaum employs a linguistic ensemble that at times resembles the water-tight, nitty-gritty reasoning of God and Evil, while at other times feels like terse jolts to the psyche.” What? Sometimes I couldn’t even understand the interpreter.

To prove my point, on page 84, Mr. Birnbaum says, “Don’t get stuck on any one sentence or paragraph or page. If stuck on a sentence, re-read it once, perhaps, then roll forward regardless. No one sentence or paragraph makes-or-breaks book #2. The concepts are all attaching to the core ‘spinal column’ of POTENTIAL...Extraordinariation (his word, not mine). Your subconscious will connect-the-various dots. Matters will crystallize further.” Mr. Khalil says on page 90, “Birnbaum is positing throughout Summa Metaphysica that the original ‘leveraged buyout’ concept was cosmic. The cosmos was created, he hypothesizes, out of the cosmos’ own potential. Birnbaum’s paradigm, on the other hand, is ‘bootstrap’, i.e. the potential of A ignites A retroactively. The Torah itself has a one-phrase all-encompassing treatise on Jewish philosophy: Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh. This is Potential within Potential, which Birnbaum seizes upon as the crux of Summa Metaphysica.” My contention is that this book (and the rest of the series) should be studied at Yeshiva University if you are going for your doctorate. It’s not for the hoi polloi. Later in the book, the author says, “We do not know what existed pre-Big Bang. Let us call it ‘0’. We can make assumptions about ‘voids’ of various flavors, but we certainly do not know (of course we don’t!!). Best to just call it ’0’. Now moving forward...at CREATION, ‘0’ is presumably divided in multiple ways, many beyond our capability of even beginning to fathom at this point...counter-balancing Negatives and Positives...0 divides into +1,-1……+2, -2 etc., Positives and Negatives; Polar and anti-Polar, Male and Female; (see book #1).”  Are you getting this are am I a tad stunod?

So as I struggled to page 103, I splashed water on my face and said to myself, I can make sense of this. But the page starts off with, “To our readers - By now you ‘have-the-drift’ regarding the core concept of Quest for Potential (but I didn’t have the drift), but ‘having-the-drift’ is not sufficient for a major metaphysics presentation,-so we will proceed forward in more formal fashion...Quest for Potential is an overarching and all-encompassing Near-Infinite Entity/Dynamis transcending TIME and SPACE seeking to evolve fully into Infinite Divine Extraordinariation.” “Viruach Elohim mirachefet al p’nei hamayim*, Everything-past, present and future-is integral to this ONE entity/dynamic, of which we are an organic part.” *Khalil tries to explain the above Jewish phrase by saying, “Torah use A: There are two ways to quote a biblical passage. One might either reference a detail from the Torah and use it merely to introduce a concept that is otherwise unrelated to biblical principles. Or, one might take a hold of-and embrace-central biblical principles, and use them as a foundation for developing a thought.” Thanks, Khalil, but I still don’t understand anything that I’ve read. I must say that this was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. There is no question that Mr. Birnbaum is a bigtime intellectual, but he must learn to write using mostly elementary terminology. I eagerly wanted the answers to the questions in paragraph one, but I didn’t get them. I do recommend this book but, mainly to Mensa society members (just kidding).

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

Comment: At the end of the book, Birnbaum has a discussion with Professor Stephen Hawking of Great Britain. Hawking: “For millions of years, mankind lived like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. Mankind learned to talk and we learned to listen.” Birnbaum: “To reach its potential, mankind was thrust into a greater level of complexity/sophistication than the animals around him. The form of that advanced complexity included higher-level reason, language, emotion, and consciousness. Per Potentialism Theory, the notion that ‘advancement’ would happen was a given; it was only a question of when, where and what form it would take.”

Hawking: “I don’t believe that the ultimate theory will come by steady work along existing lines. We need something new. We can’t predict what that will be or when we will find it because if we knew that, we would have found it already!” Birnbaum: “Right again, Professor Hawking. Exactly.” (the possible ‘ultimate theory’ is Birnbaum’s Potentialism Theory).

I still don’t understand and will soon put this book to rest for forever. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

the FATNESS


The author sent me an autographed copy of his novel to read and review:
Mark A. Rayner wrote this spoof about socialized medicine in Canada with the intention of providing comic relief. I, for one, found far too little haha’s. It was a fair to middling story, bereft of any real comedy. I saw that some reviewers compared this novel to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, (see my review of 2/17/2013). Are you kidding? Did you really read Catch-22, or are you shooting from the hip? Mr. Raynor even attempted one or two pregnant pauses...please leave those to Jack Benny and George Burns. I do agree that socialized medicine is a joke, since doctor’s offices in Canada are filled with people suffering from Munchausen syndrome, since their visit to a doctor’s office is perceived to be free. If someone has to pay for a doctor’s appointment (with real money), chances are that that someone is really sick. (I love being able to use that that). I’m not saying that the author’s novel is extraneous...it’s just not that funny. So what’s the story about?

The idea that Canada would send people to a kinda prison for being overweight is one thing that did make me laugh. If your BMI (body mass index) was over 30, you went to what the inmates called The Fatness (the overweight prison). You didn’t have to go if you were willing to get your own health insurance...not many chose that option. Your job was protected for two years while you tried to get under 30 BMIs, if you failed...say so long to your job. Since the fat prison was expensive to run, the law only applied to ages between 18 and 45. Our protagonist in prison, Keelan Cavanaugh, who is a web designer for Hellmuth University, briefly thought about having his leg cut off to save 23 pounds, but changed his mind. Keelan’s two buddies in the Fatness are Greg and Max. “There were many many nicknames for the Calorie Reduction Centres: The Girth Gulag, Chubby Choky. Plump Prison. The Fatness. They all gave the impression, but not the facts: the CRCs were concentration camps for the generous of flesh. Sure, cushy, non-death-dealing camps with running water, full free Wi-Fi, and on-staff exercise coaches, but the facilities were designed to keep an unwanted population sequestered and out of sight of polite company.”

Keelan meets Jacinda Williams, an activist Lawyer, who works as an advisor for the Subcommittee on Obesity. They appear to fall in love. Keelan’s new calorie supervisor (his third), Brittany, thinks Jacinda’s butt might be a tad too large (needs some treadmill work). How can Keelan lose the weight to get out of prison and take Jacinda on a real date? Brittany gives Keelan a ridiculous two week diet: “For the first four days, all you eat is apples, then one day of cheese, followed by four days of chicken, and you finish off with a nice celery cleanse.” Keelan did the math. “So I’m going to eat nothing but celery for five days?” Brittany says, “Isn’t it wonderful?” Meanwhile, inmates can cheat on their diets thanks to the illegal activities of prisoner Colin Taggart and his Heavy Hitters. He has the approval of the prison doctor and seems to have the tacit consent of the prison director for importing drugs, alcohol, sex toys and more importantly...Big Macs, French fries, ice cream, chocolate bars, and soda pop! There seems to be a lot of sidebar stories going on in this novel (at the same time) with no firm direction of the plot. It reminds me of a TV weatherman showing the viewer all the possible spaghetti noodle paths a hurricane can take. I do recommend this novel, largely for it’s unusual topic and the author’s adequate prose.

RATING: 3 out of 5 stars

Comment: Other than Mark A. Rayner, the only Canadian writer that I’m aware of is Alistair MacLeod (7/20/1936-4/20/2014). His 1999 novel, No Great Mischief is considered by many to be Canada’s greatest book of all time. What did Amazon say about Alistair’s novel?

“Alistair MacLeod musters all of the skill and grace that have won him an international following to give us No Great Mischief, the story of a fiercely loyal family and the tradition that drives it. Generations after their forebears went into exile, the MacDonalds still face seemingly unmitigated hardships and cruelties of life. Alexander, orphaned as a child by a horrific tragedy, has nevertheless gained some success in the world. Even his older brother, Calum, a nearly destitute alcoholic living on Toronto’s skid row, has been scarred by another tragedy. But, like all his clansman, Alexander is sustained by a family history that seems to run through his veins. And through these lovingly recounted stories-wildly comic or heartbreakingly tragic-we discover the hope against hope upon which every family must sometimes rely.”

That sounds like a novel that I should read in the near future.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

THE LYING GAME


I struggled with the first half of this story and I shouldn’t have because it was a worthy third novel by Ruth Ware, best selling author of The Woman in Cabin 10 (see my review of 9/7/2016)...but struggle I did. And I know why. The author was very stingy in giving the reader any idea of what was going on. Every chapter gave me the pipe dream of putting two and two together, but it didn’t occur until page 177 when I finally had a good idea of what was happening. I mean if a person texts a message to her three former schoolmates saying, “I need you” on the first page, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that she will tell them why she needs them before 175 pages have elapsed? And why did it take so long for the reader to find out why the four girls (they were 15 years old at the time) were kicked out of school seventeen years ago? I got the first clue on page 165 when our protagonist, Isa Wilde, was attending a class reunion (alumnae ball) and bumped into Miss Weatherby, her former Housemistress. I did notice this style of writing in Ruth Ware’s second novel, but it wasn’t as flagrant. In a good whodunit or mystery, I like having little clues dropped all throughout the novel...it challenges me to solve the puzzle. I don’t want to wait until half the novel goes by before I have a lightbulb moment. Okay, did I think Ruth Ware had a quality third novel? Absolutely, but I wish she would adopt a style similar to Agatha Christie’s. Agatha would drop hints and clues leading up to the conclusion so the readers could attempt to solve the mystery for themselves. So what did Ruth Ware do in the second half of the novel? She took the opposite approach of the first half and bombarded the reader with leads, clues, tips and information that almost made my head spin. With my pet peeve aired, I still recognize the author as a superior storyteller.

Isa and Fatima became best friends with Thea and Kate en route to a second rate boarding school in Salten, England. Thea and Kate have been playing a game they call The Lying Game. Isa and Fatima quickly made it a foursome of liars. Seventeen years pass since they were forced out of the school (see my comment in the first paragraph) and suddenly Isa, Thea and Fatima get a text message of three words from Kate (who still lives in Salten)...I need You. The three text back to Kate...I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m coming. All three now have responsible jobs. Isa has a newborn baby that she is breastfeeding but decides to take the baby with her on the train ride to Salten. On the way to Salten, Isa reminisces The Lying Game, “It comes back to me now as sharp and vivid as the smell of the sea, and the scream of gulls over the Reach, and I can’t believe that I almost forgotten it-forgotten the tally sheet Kate kept above her bed, covered with cryptic marks for her elaborate scoring system. This much for a new victim. That much for complete belief. The extras awarded for elaborate detail, or managing to rehook someone who almost called your bluff. I haven’t thought of it for so many years, but in a way, I’ve been playing it all this time.” Isa and baby Freya are picked up at the Salten train station by Kate in Rick’s Taxi (not mine). Kate owns and lives in the Tide Mill on the Reach. “It’s not a building so much as a collection of driftwood thrown together by the winds.” Kate tells Isa, “The whole place is sinking. I had a surveyor come and look at it, he said there’s no proper foundations, and that if I were applying for a mortgage today I’d never get one.” Kate will not tell Isa why she needed them until the others get there.

Fatima and Thea arrive. Fatima is now a doctor and a practicing Muslim wearing a hijab. Thea arrives...still the wild rebel. When they are all together, they go to the Reach to swim, smoke, and drink...til two am. When they get back in the mill, Kate says, “I...then she stops. She drops her eyes. Oh, God, almost to herself. I didn’t know it would be this difficult.” “Spit it out”, Thea says, her voice hard. “Say it Kate. We’ve skirted round it long enough; it’s time to tell us why.” “Why what? Kate could retort. But she doesn’t need to ask. We all know. Why are we here? What did that text mean, those three little words: I need you?” As I told you in paragraph one, you will not put two and two together until you reach page 177, but on page 66 (this is as far as I will go with my recap), “Kate draws a long breath, and she looks up, her face shadowed in the lamplight. But to my surprise, she doesn’t speak. Instead, she gets up and goes to the pile of newspapers in the scuttle by the stove, left there for lighting the logs. There is one on the top, the Salten Observer, and she holds it out, wordless, her face showing all the fear she has been hiding this long. It is dated yesterday, and the headline on the front page is very simple: Human Bone Found in Reach.” Instantly, the girls know who that bone belongs to and what that discovery means to them, but the reader will not know until (you guessed it)...page 177. Did I whet your whistle? I thought so. Now get your own copy and try to solve this mystery (it will not be easy).

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars


Comment: Even though I gave this novel a excellent rating, there was one other issue that somewhat irked me besides the lack of clues in the first half of the novel. What was it? Breastfeeding. That’s right, breastfeeding. Throughout this tense story, the author made sure the baby was being fed and fed and fed (why would you even bring this baby into constant danger?). I don’t think a chapter went by without Isa offering her breast to baby Freya. Even during a tense moment when Isa is discussing Kate’s father’s supposed suicide note on page 332...out comes the tit:

“I’ve read the note again and again, more times than Fatima has, more times than I could count, watching the way the words trail away into illegibility, following the progress of the drug in Ambrose’s straggling letters. I read it on the train up from Salten, and during the long wait at Hampton’s Lee. I read it while my own daughter lolled against my breast, her rosebud mouth open, her halting breath cobweb-soft against my skin, and I can only see it one way.”

The lack of first half clues and the constant prattling about breastfeeding led to my giving this novel four stars instead of five.

Monday, September 4, 2017

the Labyrinth Wall


The author and her public relations representative sent my fourteen year old grandson, Kai O, an autographed copy of her novel to read and review:

Emilyann Girdner has been awarded numerous honors for her fiction and deserves them all. The Labyrinth Wall is set in a near inhospitable world. In this setting, the Mahk (people made by the Creator) have to choose between searching through acid rivers for Obsidian to pay for food or be left to die. The protagonist, Araina, is one of the Mahk.

The story starts to become interesting after Araina finds a hidden underwater passageway to a lush enclave, a sharp contrast to the barren wastelands she calls home. All of this is surprising and new to Araina...but this is only the beginning. Soon after, Darith, another Mahk, emerges into the enclave. Araina knows Darith as someone who isn’t afraid to attack other Mahks in order to steal a meal. Darith followed Araina to do just that. After fighting for a bit, Darith manages to cut Araina’s leg. But just as it seems Araina may lose, a hole opens up in the wall and a mysterious Man in White comes through being pursued by two Creator guards.

The Man in White runs over to Araina and puts his hand on her wound and somehow the wound begins to heal. Soon after he closes the wound, the Creator guards catch up to him and drag him back to the hole where they came through...and it closes behind them. Who is the Man in White? Why were the Creator guards chasing him? How did the Man in White heal Araina’s wounds?

Emilyann Girdner’s novel is a unique story compared to other novels that I’ve read. The story was interesting; the characters felt like they could be real and everything that happened seemed important. However, some parts of the novel’s beginning were a bit confusing. I would definitely recommend this novel to readers between 12 to 18 years old.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

Comment: My grandson, Kai O, continues to be my main YA novel reviewer. This week he starts his freshman year in high school with a better understanding of English Literature because of the work he has done on Book Reviews and Comments by Rick O.